Defining the limits of physiological plasticity: how gene expression can assess and predict the consequences of ocean change

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2012 Jun 19;367(1596):1733-45. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2012.0019.


Anthropogenic stressors, such as climate change, are driving fundamental shifts in the abiotic characteristics of marine ecosystems. As the environmental aspects of our world's oceans deviate from evolved norms, of major concern is whether extant marine species possess the capacity to cope with such rapid change. In what many scientists consider the post-genomic era, tools that exploit the availability of DNA sequence information are being increasingly recognized as relevant to questions surrounding ocean change and marine conservation. In this review, we highlight the application of high-throughput gene-expression profiling, primarily transcriptomics, to the field of marine conservation physiology. Through the use of case studies, we illustrate how gene expression can be used to standardize metrics of sub-lethal stress, track organism condition in natural environments and bypass phylogenetic barriers that hinder the application of other physiological techniques to conservation. When coupled with fine-scale monitoring of environmental variables, gene-expression profiling provides a powerful approach to conservation capable of informing diverse issues related to ocean change, from coral bleaching to the spread of invasive species. Integrating novel approaches capable of improving existing conservation strategies, including gene-expression profiling, will be critical to ensuring the ecological and economic health of the global ocean.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Climate Change*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods
  • Ecosystem
  • Fishes / genetics
  • Fishes / physiology
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Gene Expression*
  • Genetic Fitness
  • Humans
  • Introduced Species
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Ostreidae / physiology
  • Physiological Phenomena
  • Stress, Physiological


  • Biomarkers